Early Activities in Kourou
10 November 1999At the XMM homebase in the Netherlands the first night frosts have arrived. It is 10 November. Autumn has settled in and the weather reflects the season: low clouds and mists, with at times a gleam of sunlight. The offices of the XMM team at ESTEC are practically deserted. Those still present envy their colleagues down in the tropics.
In Kourou, the Sun is beating down. Leaving their cars at the most shady places, the XMM campaign team are thankful for the air-conditioned offices, just a few hundred metres away from the Ariane 5 Final Assembly building (BAF) where XMM is being prepared for launch. The liftoff is in sight, a month away.
XMM being prepared for tanking
The campaign has been proceeding smoothly, since the spacecraft arrived in French Guiana on 23 September. Once removed from its transport container, XMM was submitted to mechanical verifications and to alignment tests to ensure that it had not suffered during the journey. The spacecraft's propulsion system was also pressurised to check for any leaks, and two short antennae that will be ensuring liaison with the Earth ground stations were fitted. Then followed a full electrical checkout.
Mid-October, the third full System Verification Test was successfully completed, confirming that the ESOC mission control centre in Germany could correctly command and receive data from all of XMM's science instruments.
Flight Acceptance Review
In parallel, in another building of the European Space Port, the Flight Acceptance Review (FAR) came to a close. Four weeks of intensive meetings that had started at Dornier's Friedrichshafen plant, have allowed the verification of all aspects of the mission and of the spacecraft. This arduous checklist process culminated with the FAR Board on 26 October at which ESA management gave its green light to go ahead with the mating of the spacecraft onto the launcher.
The barbecue party at which the experimenters celebrated the end of their activities offered an opportunity to Edgar Holzle from the Dornier team to show everyone the beauties of the sky with his telescope.
Preparing to tank up
Operations have now started in view of the fuelling of the spacecraft. This hazardous operation is scheduled to take place just after the upcoming Ariane 4 launch, flight V123. For this operation, a few members of the Dornier and Fiat Avio campaign teams have received training in the use of the scape suits which need to be worn when in the presence of the highly reactive and toxic hydrazine propellant. This training was conducted by the CSG safety team with the help of a unit of the professional Paris fire brigade, permanently located in Kourou.
For the fuelling, the spacecraft has been moved in vertical position and hoisted from its multipurpose trolley to a special stand for the fuelling in the middle of a sump, a special drainage area of the floor in the unlikely case of spillage.
Some 500 kg of propellant, brought from Europe in several drums, have already been transferred to a special tank, which has been brought to the Final Assembly Building. From now until launch, safety measures have been tightened because of the presence of this hydrazine. Everyone is required to wear conductive suits and overshoes and has to carry a gas mask just in case. Even taking pictures using a flash is now forbidden!
Inside the Ariane 5 Final Assembly building, the satellite campaign teams are seeing the arrival of more and more "launcher" people. For instance, seen on the left, the interface between the spacecraft and the launcher (ACU - Adaptateur de Charge Utile) has arrived and has been mechanically and electrically checked by Arianespace before fitted to the spacecraft.
Philippe Kletzkine, XMM AIV Manager leading the ESA satellite campaign is now anticipating the next rendez-vous after fuelling: "The campaign milestones are being reached one after the other, on time as scheduled. I am now looking forward to our important appointment on 19 November when XMM and Ariane-5 will be for the first time be under the same roof, that of the Final Assembly Building". Campaign account... to be continued!
With the help of the Daniel de Chambure and his ESA and Dornier colleagues.